What can Machiavelli teach us about leadership and power?
You may not use theory to understand your reality, but theory certainly uses you. Whether you are a teacher, principle, lecturer, student or simply curious, in this short EDDi section Dr Stephen Whitehead will answer common questions related to sociological theory.
All of his answers were originally published on Quora*. We offer these answers on EDDi in the hope you acquire some sociological insights into the 21st century.
Treat these articles as a healthy, and heavier, counter-point to all the lighter fluff which gets posted on social media.
Question: What can Machiavelli teach us about leadership and power?
By: Dr Stephen Whitehead
If you wish to understand Machiavelli, read The Prince, recognise what the author is suggesting as ‘good leadership’ practice and how to wield power, and then do the very opposite.
Machiavelli wrote his book as an ironic treatise on the power of the elite, how they abuse the masses, plot against each other, and instil fear in order to acquire control.
He is not suggesting this is the way to behave as a leader. He is however, hoping that bad leaders will read his book as a text for leadership and behave accordingly.
Because Machiavelli was astute enough to know that any toxic leader who followed his ‘advice’ was doomed to disaster. One example being Thomas Cromwell (Chief Minister to King Henry VIII of England), who did take The Prince at face value and duly lost his head as a result.
Machiavelli is a ‘two-faced writer’ - you must not take the text literally.
As Cardinal Pole wrote about Machiavelli:
“…it is the aim of his doctrine to act like a drug that causes princes to go mad, making them attack their own people with the savagery of the lion and the wiles of the fox.”
Machiavelli was, in truth, a freedom fighter. He suffered from the wiles of the foxy leaders of Florence all his life (1469-1527). His revenge was to write a book which resounds to this day, and in its words are the poisons of leadership and power awaiting to be imbibed by the egotistic, the stupid, the unwary and the downright venal.
(See also, Erica Benner, 2018, ‘Be Like The Fox’, Penguin)
Since 2017, Dr Stephen Whitehead has answered over 10,500 Quora questions, mostly on relationships, education, sociology, life and living, and philosophy. To date, his answers have received approximately 3.2 million views increasing at the rate 60,000 views a month. He has nearly 1,000 followers.
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